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Also known as ‘Old Rolling Dog Syndrome’ or ‘Old Dog Disease’, vestibular disease may be scary for pet parents since the disease mirrors the symptoms of serious, life-threatening diseases such as brain tumors or stroke. 

But, what is vestibular disease to begin with? 

We will go through just that in this blog post along with how to tell the difference between vestibular disease and a stroke and how to help a dog with vestibular disease. 

Let’s get started!

Senior Dog - Vestibular Disease In Dogs

What Is Vestibular Disease in Dogs? 

The vestibular system helps your dog maintain normal balance. The system has the following components: 

The central component which is located in the dog’s brain 

Peripheral components which are located in the middle and inner ear 

This disease causes a sudden, non-progressive disturbance in your dog’s balance and, as the name suggests, it’s commonly seen in senior dogs. 

Senior Dog - Vestibular Disease In Dogs

Here Are Some Symptoms of Vestibular Disease 

The symptoms of vestibular disease have a sudden onset and the symptoms mimic those of serious, life-threatening conditions. However, the thing to note is that this disease is not fatal. 

Take a look ar the symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs:

Dog rolls or keeps moving about in circles 

Vomiting

Nausea

Tilting the head (slight to the extreme in nature) 

Increased dizziness

Falling down 

Dogs with vestibular disease often look like they’ve had too much to drink at the doggy bar.

These symptoms may be immediate or acute and there won’t be a slow progression seen in the symptoms, they can happen out of the blue. When our Ginger developed those symptoms when she was 11 years old, it came on suddenly. One night she was perfectly fine. The next morning, however, she could barely manage to stand, was walking in circles and hitting the wall, and had an extreme head tilt.

It. Was. Terrifying.

We feared it was a stroke, and rushed her to our vet who kept her a few hours for testing. He was able to rule out a stroke, thankfully. Instead, she was diagnosed with vestibular disease.

Ginger and Rico Dogs Snuggling on Couch - Vestibular Disease In Dogs

A Quick Look: What is a Stroke? 

Stroke is extremely serious, and the chances are that you may have come across someone in your life who’s been a victim of it. However, it is surprising for pet parents to discover that even their canine friends can get a stroke.

So, What Exactly is a Stroke?

In simple words, a stroke is an event that leads to a loss of blood flow in parts of the brain, the consequence of which are neurologic abnormalities

There are two ways in which a dog can get a stroke: 

Ischemic strokes: There being an obstruction in blood the vessels due to parasites, bacteria, tumor cells, blood clots, and clumps of platelets 

Hemorrhagic strokes: There being active bleeding in the brain, which is a result of rupture of clotting disorders or blood vessels

Here’s What a Stroke Looks Like in Dogs

While the underlying mechanism of strokes is the same, the signs of strokes in humans and dogs aren’t the same, of course. For example, dogs don’t experience loss of memory or slurred speech. 

The symptoms do vary depending on the location of the stroke in the brain. 

The issue here is that unlike humans, animals can’t tell us how they’re feeling and explain their symptoms to us. This means that true strokes may sometimes even go unnoticed in dogs.

Senior Dog - Vestibular Disease In Dogs

Symptoms of massive strokes, however, are observable. These are the kinds of strokes that require immediate attention by a vet. Following are the symptoms:

Inability to walk 

Head tilt

Uncoordinated gait

Strabismus: abnormal eye positioning

Nystagmus: abnormal eye movements–side to side or rotary 

Blindness

Abnormal behavior

Loss of consciousness

Rapid onset of symptoms

The symptoms of a stroke are acute and immediate. One minute, the pet is fine while the next, it cannot get up. These signs last from a few minutes to hours or days.

Here’s the Difference Between Vestibular Disease and a Stroke

The symptoms of a stroke and those of vestibular disease are acute, which means that they have a sudden onset.

One minute your dog seems his normal self and is completely fine, and the next he’s having terrifying symptoms. 

Veterinarians are still unsure as to the cause of vestibular disease. 

However, as mentioned earlier in this post, the problem seems to be in the vestibular system that helps maintain the dog’s sense of balance.

So, how do the vets differentiate between a stroke and vestibular disease? 

The vet takes into account the following before making a diagnosis: 

Your dog’s age 

Symptoms 

Neurologic exam 

Physical exam 

Blood work 

Skull X-ray 

MRI scan 

CT scan

Symptoms in dogs with vestibular disease seem to improve within the next few days or weeks.

In Ginger’s case, she was mostly better within 4 days, and fully back to normal in a week. 

Since the symptoms are nearly identical in both cases, the vet may order scans to ensure all is going well. 

Differences in Treatment 

The treatment for vestibular disease involves: 

Assistance with basic tasks such as drinking, eating, defecation and urination 

Ensuring that the dog is comfortable and clean 

Anti-anxiety and anti-nausea pills 

Sedatives to help the dog sleep comfortably

Senior Dog - Vestibular Disease In Dogs

Treatment of a stroke, on the other hand, involves the restoration of oxygen flow to the brain along with: 

Reducing the swelling 

Treatment of underlying conditions 

Sedatives and anti-nausea pills may also be prescribed 

Blood thinners are prescribed to help reduce blood clots 

Dogs with high blood pressure are prescribed BP medicine 

In some cases, surgery and therapy afterward may also be necessary.

Here’s How You Can Help Your Dog With Vestibular Disease

The symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs usually reduce as time passes.

If, however, your dog is struggling for a longer time period or is having repeated bouts of vestibular disease, you can provide your furry friend with proper care during that period to ensure he’s back on his own feet in no time. 

Let’s see what we can do. 

Addressing Any Underlying Issues 

When it comes to managing the symptoms of vestibular disease in dogs, there are several measures you can take: 

Medical interventions which involve using antibiotics to treat underlying problems 

Radiotherapy treatment and adjunctive surgical treatment to resect tumors and other growths 

Medical management of the central vestibular system that involves using antiepileptic, corticosteroids, antibiotics or antifungal medication 

If your vet determines an underlying cause of your dog’s vestibular disease, they will help determine the best method of treatment. 

Supportive care and therapy 

Rehabilitation is the best course of treatment for dogs with vestibular disease. This includes the following: 

Supportive therapy 

Physiotherapy 

Your vet or a chartered physiotherapist can help create a proper rehabilitation program based on your dog’s needs to help him get back on his feet.

Physiotherapy is crucial for dogs with this disease as inactivity decreases the movement of joints, causing: 

Muscle weakness

Stiffness 

Contracture 

These can be a hindrance to your dog’s recovery and need to be addressed as soon as possible.

When Should I Visit the Vet? 

Because it is so difficult to tell the difference between vestibular disease and a stroke, it’s vital to bring them to the vet immediately.

When it comes to older dogs, veterinarians may keep them for observation and monitor them closely before performing MRI or CT scans.

The signs may be severe within the first 48 to 72 hours of when they appear, but they gradually improve within days or weeks. 

In case your dog doesn’t show improvement within a few days, the following diagnostic tests are conducted: 

magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

computed tomography (CT) 

Additionally, other evidence of a stroke or other brain lesions is also gathered. 

Vets generally prescribe medicines that help alleviate motion sickness. Other precautions include: 

Keeping the dog in an area with soft carpeting 

Ensuring the dog stays away from stairs at all times 

These precautions are taken to minimize the additional problems and injuries from falls.

We used a baby play area to keep Ginger contained and let her have plenty of rest. We also stayed very close when walking with her across the house and out the door for short potty sessions.

Luckily, Ginger knew something was off and was perfectly content to lounge on her cozy dog bed and get treated like a queen!

Summing Up: Vestibular Disease in Dogs and Ways to Naturally Support Your Dog

Vestibular disease in dogs has symptoms that may look serious in nature, but the disease itself is non-fatal. 

Here are some ways in which you can manage vestibular disease naturally: 

Exercise – Gentle exercise is effective as it loosens up the stiff joints–the result of inactivity. A physical therapist can help your dog out with this and your vet can help teach you how to walk a dog with vestibular disease.

Acupuncture – Studies have shown that this can help alleviate the symptoms.

CBD Oil – CBD oil effectively improves and alleviates symptoms of vestibular disease. Alternatively, it also helps with joint pains and symptoms of arthritis.

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a non-psychoactive oil that’s made from low-THC hemp. It has been wonderful for calming my struggle pup Rico down. It has great benefits, and doesn’t make your pup high or drugged. To see how it can help your dog, read here.

We’re especially fans of KingKanine CBD oil. It’s made with krill oil, which promotes healthy skin and coat, along with a great boost of healthy omegas. Plus, it has lavender oil to give an added sense of calm to your pup. To order some, click this link.

Did your dog develop vestibular disease? How are they doing now? Share with us below!